A novice golfer has outlined how participating in The R&A’s Strength and Balance Study has benefited his health and encouraged him to play the sport up to three times a week.
Raul Valdez, a 70-year-old living in Alhambra, California, was part of an international research study backed by The R&A that has found new evidence to suggest golf can provide significant health benefits to older participants in the form of improved muscle strength and balance.
The Strength and Balance Study was carried out with two sample groups over two years by Professor Maria Stokes OBE at the University of Southampton and Dr George Salem at the University of Southern California (USC).
Valdez was among 15 individuals in the USC group who took part in a 10-week instructional golf training programme at a municipal course in the greater Los Angeles area. As well as seeing if non-golfers developed strength, balance, walking, and cognitive benefits, it also examined the feasibility, safety and adherence of the programme for senior non-golfers.
Having seen a flyer asking for participants for the study, which involved the provision of free lessons and equipment twice a week for 10 weeks, Valdez gained medical clearance and proceeded into the programme.
“I had been thinking about taking golf lessons,” said Valdez. “Several trips to the driving range on my own had poor results in hitting the ball well, so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity. Other than going to driving ranges I had never played golf.”
With a desire to primarily gain enough skills to play with friends without being embarrassed, Valdez went on to achieve far more than that.
He added: “I found the lab testing experience very interesting and fun. Interacting with the USC staff, especially the student assistants and the other participants, was very enjoyable.
“The memory testing, strength, endurance and quickness measurements were all new and entertaining experiences.”
With the programme going beyond testing and driving range activity to actually playing on a course, Valdez relished the opportunity as he found a new lease of life for golf. His improved balance was one of the key benefits.
“The golf lessons were more than I anticipated,” Valdez admitted. “I thought we were mainly going to be learning how to swing various clubs on the driving range. Going out on the course with an excellent instructor and learning what clubs to use in situations and different lies was an awesome practical experience.
“I think the training benefited my hand and eye coordination, endurance and balance more than strength. I think a golf swing is product of coordination, balance and speed more than strength. My balance and reflexes seem to be better.”
Presently, Valdez can now be found two to three times a week playing at Monterey Park in Southern California, a 9-hole public golf course. Being part of the Study has highlighted the sport’s benefits to him and he would encourage any older person to give golf a try.
He states: “I certainly would recommend golf for older people. Older folks benefit from the action of walking and physical activity of swinging a club. Golf is also a mental exercise that involves decision making and concentration.
“I am still golfing, mostly at the Monterey Park course. I have also played at Whittier Narrows, Alhambra, Eaton Canyon, San Dimas Canyon and Brookside. I play two or three times a week. For me, it's a great diversion from everyday problems and aggravations.”
Dr George Salam added: “Our study demonstrated that adults as old as 80 years of age can feasibly and safely be trained to golf and that our 10-week instructional programme improved strength, balance, walking ability, and cognition with large effects. Thus, golf training programmes should be considered by clinicians prescribing exercise to improve senior fitness.”